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  • Good afternoon, Bonjour, Tansi. [English, French, Cree]

  • I'm with the Faculty of Social Work,

  • and I'm here to talk to you about an idea I'm very excited about.

  • I think, as the host mentioned,

  • something we've talked about in Canada for a long time,

  • but it's really been coming to the forefront very recently.

  • It's called basic income,

  • and the place to start is with the definition.

  • It's an income unconditionally granted to each individual

  • without a means test or other conditions.

  • And it actually differs in very substantial ways,

  • very important ways, from existing income security programs.

  • It's paid to individuals, rather than households.

  • It's paid irrespective of any income from other sources.

  • So people will, in the vast majority of cases,

  • continue to work for wages and salaries, will start small businesses, will farm.

  • But it provides a floor for everyone

  • for a very important form of economic security.

  • And it's paid without regard to performance of any paid work.

  • It differs very greatly

  • from the kind of workfare, and punitive, income security programs,

  • which have come into place in recent years.

  • There's two delivery mechanisms for basic income,

  • two general ways in which it can be paid out,

  • and gotten into the hands of all the people in society.

  • The first one's called "a demogrant".

  • This is where a certain amount of money

  • is paid on a regular basis to everybody in society.

  • It could be a check in the mail,

  • it could be deposited in your bank account

  • or credit union account,

  • it can be, if it's designed in this way, taxed back from high-incomers

  • who perhaps need it less.

  • But it does go to everyone in society.

  • The second general way to deliver it is called "the negative income tax",

  • also called "a refundable tax credit".

  • And in this case, a threshold of adequacy is set,

  • an income that everybody needs

  • in order to live a comfortable and dignified life.

  • If you fall below that threshold, then your benefit kicks in.

  • The further you're below the threshold,

  • the more benefit you get to bring you up to the threshold.

  • In that sense it's targeted to those most in need, and it's also perhaps

  • a cheaper way in which to deliver it.

  • We actually have examples of both of these mechanisms still in place,

  • in relation to current benefits for children.

  • Those of you who are old enough to remember the old family benefits,

  • - the baby bonus, in 1995, and previous -

  • it was a demogrant.

  • The current child tax benefit is delivered

  • as a refundable tax credit, or a negative income tax.

  • What I'm going to do for the rest of my talk

  • is give an overview of what I think are the five key reasons we need to implement

  • an effective basic income program in this country.

  • I'll go through each one individually.

  • First of all,

  • it's really important in Canada

  • that we address, reduce,

  • and, one would hope, eventually eliminate poverty.

  • This is an important reason on two counts.

  • First of all, in a wealthy country like Canada, with bountiful resources

  • and one of the highest qualities of life in the world,

  • it's a moral obscenity that we have the high rates of poverty that we have.

  • So there's a moral imperative.

  • The second reason we need to reduce poverty in this country

  • is because it's the smart thing to do.

  • I'll talk briefly about both.

  • First of all, on the moral side, why we need to address poverty.

  • These are some quick statistics.

  • One in seven, 4.9 million, Canadians live in a state of poverty.

  • So it's a general problem.

  • It hits certain vulnerable groups particularly hard.

  • Racialized families, single mothers.

  • The two shocking statistics for me here

  • are 50 percent of status first nations' children live in poverty.

  • Almost 60 percent of women with disabilities.

  • So it's a general problem

  • and it hits particular groups in very hard ways.

  • The second reason we need to reduce poverty,

  • and basic income is a means to do this, I would argue,

  • is that poverty costs us.

  • The combined public and private costs of alleviating poverty

  • or addressing the problems that result from poverty,

  • we get into staggering figures in the 70 and 80 billion dollar range.

  • Remedial cost, this means there's a tremendous relationship

  • between living in poverty and bad health outcomes;

  • disease, hospitalization, heavy reliance on the healthcare system.

  • So if we can reduce poverty,

  • it make sense that we could also reduce costs in the healthcare system.

  • There's other negative effects of poverty that cost us,

  • including children that don't do well in school

  • and need more help,

  • child welfare costs, cost in the criminal justice system.

  • All of these problems are related with high rates of poverty.

  • The second point here relates with poverty,

  • there are costs related to loss of revenues.

  • When you're living in poverty

  • you have many barriers to surmount

  • in order to join the labor market and have a good job.

  • For instance, if you talk to people who live in poverty

  • and have to navigate the labyrinth, the maze,

  • of benefits, conditions, and eligibility criteria,

  • people in poverty often say,

  • "It's a full-time job, trying to be a poor person

  • and trying to get enough money to live."

  • Even if you get some benefits,

  • you're still below any degree of adequacy.

  • So if we had a basic income to eliminate that bureaucracy, that maze,

  • people that are currently living in poverty

  • might actually have the opportunity

  • to get job training, to reorganize their lives, to get a job,

  • and become taxpaying citizens in the labor force.

  • I'd like to move on to the second reason

  • that we need to implement

  • an effective basic income program in Canada.

  • And that relates to equality.

  • There's a relationship between equality and poverty,

  • but they're also distinct reasons,

  • and give us different reasons to think about implementing basic income.

  • This chart here, just to orient you for a minute,

  • this comes from the work of Wilkinson and Pickett,

  • and the Equality Trust in Britain,

  • which has done great work over the years

  • on talking about the effects of inequality in society.

  • Just to explain this chart,

  • the axis on the bottom, going from left to right,

  • tracks increasing levels of income inequality

  • in various societies.

  • Those dots are specific countries.

  • The axis going up and down relates to health and social problems

  • that are related to measures of different health and social problems

  • such as infant mortality, low life expectancy, health problems,

  • rates of imprisonment, etc.

  • You'll see on the scattergram here

  • that it's good to live in a country that's on the lower left of the diagram.

  • And it's not so good to live in a country that's in the upper right.

  • I don't know how clearly you can see it,

  • but far in the upper-right is the United States,

  • which has high levels of income inequality,

  • and comes out poorly on all these measures of social problems.

  • Down on the lower left

  • are countries where there's a large redistribution of income:

  • Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Nordic countries, and some others.

  • Canada's about in the middle.

  • But what this chart demonstrates, I think,

  • is that the more inequality you have

  • the poorer the quality of life is in a given society.

  • I would argue that basic income can increase equality

  • and lower those kinds of poor social outcomes.

  • The third reason to think about implementing basic income in Canada

  • has to do with enabling human freedom and individual choices.

  • Sometimes basic income is called "a left libertarian idea".

  • It borrows from left political thinking,

  • because it's about looking after one another,

  • and collective responsibility, and helping each other out.

  • But it's libertarian, or relates to freedom,

  • because it also looks

  • at what individuals want to do with their lives,

  • and how they want to chart their course.

  • And one thing that basic income can do

  • is first of all, in a negative sense,

  • it give us an exit option.

  • If we have a bad job with a bad boss,

  • we live with an abusive spouse, or we live in an oppressive community,

  • having an economic floor,

  • a regular income upon which we can depend,

  • it gives us a chance to leave those bad situations

  • and start a new life for ourself.

  • On the more positive side,

  • basic income can enable us to pursue an education,

  • spend more time with our families, take a career sabbatical.

  • Those kinds of choices.

  • The fourth reason that we need basic income in Canada

  • relates to recognizing and supporting all the work that we do,

  • both paid work and unpaid work.

  • First of all, in our society today

  • we have a tremendous problem with precarious employment,

  • increasing numbers of people who work part-time,

  • work on short-term contracts,

  • don't have security of tenure in their jobs.

  • And this is particularly affecting young people.

  • Basic income provides those folks with, once again, a floor

  • upon which to pursue opportunities in the labor market

  • without worry that they're going to...

  • First of all, gives them chances

  • to think about the long term, think about retirement, buying a home,

  • but also gets them out of the day-to-day grind

  • of just trying to make ends meet.

  • There's also increasing attention to changes in the labor market,

  • with information technology

  • and what I would call the relatively jobless future.

  • I don't think paid work is going to disappear.

  • But on the other hand,

  • we can think about automobile assembly line workers.

  • Their work is now done by robots.

  • We can think about bank employees who are increasingly displaced

  • by online banking and automatic teller machines.

  • I was reading recently that even highly skilled occupations

  • like anesthesiology,

  • doctors that work in operating rooms to keep people sedated,

  • they now have machines that can handle all that.

  • So I think the reality is,

  • looking into the years ahead there's going to be fewer good jobs,

  • so we have to think about how everybody's going to have

  • enough money to live on.

  • And lastly, what basic income does

  • is recognize unpaid work, caring work in the home,

  • and work that people do in the community,

  • and expands their definition of work.

  • The last and fifth reason on the list

  • is that I think basic income will move us

  • towards a more sustainable economy and society.

  • I would argue that basic income is necessary:

  • it's not sufficient by itself. it's not going to do the job.

  • We need to think about other things like carbon taxes,

  • lowering consumption, and clean technologies, and so on.

  • But basic income is one necessary ingredient

  • in leaving a habitable planet, an environmentally sustainable planet,

  • for our children and our grandchildren.

  • It talks about redistribution; it's not premised on economic growth.

  • Our welfare state programs as they've developed

  • have really been premised on a growing economy,

  • where everybody gets a slightly bigger piece of the pie.

  • Those days are over.

  • We have to think about steady state economics,

  • and we have to think about redistribution of wealth and society.

  • I think basic income gets us partway towards that goal.

  • And I think basic income

  • can be one of these ingredients in an environmentally sustainable future,

  • that helps us focus more

  • on human relationships and local community life,

  • and really connects us with those around us.

  • It's not about more stuff,

  • it's not about greater levels of consumption;

  • it's about quality of life, and working and living in a communal setting.

  • There's different examples of basic income-like programs

  • that exist in other parts of the world.

  • In the country of Brazil there is a program called "Bolsa Familia".

  • It resembles closely a basic income.

  • It's been in place for years.

  • It's reached millions of Brazilians, and has had a tremendous impact

  • on lowering the depth and breadth of poverty in the country.

  • There's a partial basic income paid out in all places,

  • of all places, the state of Alaska, in the US.

  • The state of Alaska uses part of its oil and gas revenues,

  • puts it away in a separate fund,

  • and pays out a dividend on a yearly basis

  • to every single resident of Alaska.

  • In Europe right now, there's great interest in basic income.

  • Finland recently decided

  • it's going to experiment with this model nationally,

  • and think about